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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utah D-line looking for leaders to emerge

Switching our focus to the defense today, which received an unpleasant surprise when defensive end Joe Kruger announced he was leaving a year early for the NFL.

The Utes must also replace Star Lotulelei and Dave Kruger and backup Niasi Leota, who was dismissed from the team in February after he was charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping after allegedly beating and threatening to kill his wife.

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The good news is the Utes have a lot of candidates who could emerge as starters and leaders.

Senior Trevor Reilly, who won't participate in spring ball as he recovers from an injury, is slated to start at left end.

Seniors Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu are the tackles and junior Nate Orchard, who previously used the last name "Fakahafua," is slated to start at right end.

Backups are returners Thretton Palamo and Viliseni Fauonuku and redshirt freshman Hunter Dimick and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a returned missionary.

Also on campus is Tevita Bloomfield, a 2011 signee who enrolled in January.

Latu Heimuli, who has been slowed by foot and knee injuries, could also be a factor.

Of the group, watching how Tu'ikolovatu and Fauonuku develop in the spring will be interesting. Fauonuku played in every game last and had 13 tackles, so don't be surprised if he pushes for a starting role. The 320-pound Tu'ikolovatu is a player Utah's coaches are excited about, the key will be how fast he can come up to speed.

Unlike the line, Utah's linebackers are a veteran group with starters Jason Whittingham and V.J. Fehoko returning along with sophomores LT Filiaga and Jared Norris. Filiaga finished ninth on the team with 32 tackles last year while Norris played in seven games.

Penciled in to start at rover is Jacoby Hale, a 6-foot, 230-pound junior who played in seven games last year and finished with 27 tackles. The speedy player from Beaumont, Texas missed games with an injury lsat year, but if the Utes can keep him healthy, he could be Utah's breakout star for the defense.

Reshawn Hooker and Uaea Masina are the youngsters competing for playing time.

The one blow to the linebackers is the absence of Victor Spikes, who played in eight games last year as a junior and had nine tackles.

Spikes is no longer with the team according to Utah officials, who declined to give more details on the situation.

- Lya Wodraska

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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